by Jeff Berger
The first 10 of the 27 chapters in the Book of Vayikra concern the consecration of the Mishkan. Tsav continues the description of korbanot (sacrifices) repeating some listed in last week’s parsha, adding-in the sin offering, and concluding with the inauguration ceremony for Aharon and his sons.
In describing their initiation, the Torah defines in detail a ceremony that parallels a completely different ritual found later in chapter 13 – the purification process for the metsorah (often translated as someone suffering from leprosy, but more accurately pertains to a non-contagious skin disease). In both instances, the person was publicly washed, dressed, had oil put on their head, had animal blood poured on the altar and placed on their right ear, thumb and toe, and then remained outside their tent for seven days.
The metsorah was someone who, by their own behaviour, removed themselves from the community. The Talmud states the underlying causes for tsa’ra’at (skin disease) were slander, theft and miserliness – sins committed against one’s fellow. While on the complete opposite side of the communal spectrum, Kohanim were selflessly drafted into service on behalf of the entire congregation. What could possibly explain this highly unusual linkage?
Supposing both rituals imply a kind of spiritual rebirth from a former status to a renewed one, we can understand how the metsorah benefitted. But how does this apply to the Kohen? To begin solving this riddle, it’s necessary to identify what role the Kohanim were expected to play. The mishkan was intended as a physical place where the Divine Presence could once again interact with humanity.
Not since the Creation of the world when Adam and Eve lived in the garden of Eden was there opportunity for such close contact. Just as God’s voice was heard in the garden, so too was it heard from between the kerubim (Golden Cherubs) above the Ark in the Holy of Holies. Kohanim, willingly or otherwise, became representatives to the Jewish nation, sanctified by their daily service.
The rebirth ritual at their inauguration was intended to separate and elevate them, giving them a new spiritual status within the wider community. While the metsorah was restored to communal life, Aharon and his sons were uplifted, changing their genetic line forever.
Today, we naturally expect our communal leaders (including rabbis) to rise up in their expected roles, to lead and inspire in selfless service. May they always live up to that higher responsibility!